I’m one of those critics that just won’t give up on M. Night Shyamlama-ding-dong. Here’s why. His first movie The Sixth Sense is one of the best movies of the ‘90s. His second movie was the most underrated movie of 2000 – Unbreakable (Bruce Willis/Samuel Jackson). His third movie Signs (Mel Gibson/Joaquin Phoenix) was entertaining enough. After that, it’s been all downhill.
Now, think of all the rock bands that have had a killer debut album and everything else sucked. If a band gave you three good records, you’d consider yourself a fan. Seriously, go through The Rolling Stones catalogue. You’ll find three great albums and a lot of garbage.
And with Shyamalan going back to horror (I had fun with the movie he wrote a few years ago – Devil), things seemed promising.
It cast a comedic actress I love (Kathryn Hahn). Unfortunately, she was underused. They had a couple of great character actors that had a lot of fun as the grandparents (Peter McRobbie, and Tony winning stage actress Deanna Dunagan).
The kids had just the right amount of precociousness. The teen girl (Olivia DeJonge) wants to be a filmmaker, which gives Shyamalan a chance to use the tired premise of the “found footage.” Fun fact there: The Blair Witch Project, which did that first, came out in 1999, the same year as The Sixth Sense.
The annoying little brother is played by Ed Oxenbould, who was good in the bad Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. He provides some comic relief with his freestyle raps (which are actually a lot better than a kid his age would be able to conjure up on the fly).
The premise is clever enough (at least for the horror genre). The kids are sent to their grandparent’s house while the mom goes off on a cruise. They’ve never met the grandparents (we’ll ignore the fact that the mother would just put them on a train and be fine with that, especially since she’s on the outs with them). When the grandparents tell the kids they can’t come out of their room after 9:30 p.m., we wonder. Is there a lady under the water…errr…basement? Are there signs of ghosts? I swear, with all the various basements, stairs, sounds, water wells, and axes that chop wood…you wonder why Shyamalan (who wrote and directed), didn’t go for a bit more originality. If he was doing these horror tropes for comedic value (the way he did with an oven scene), that would’ve been fine.
Then I remembered the last three Shyamalan movies – The Last Airbender, The Happening, and After Earth – it makes me again state that this movie could’ve been worse than it was.
After the big budget of the disaster that was After Earth, this was made with a relative small budget ($5 million), and shot in one location – a huge, creepy house in Pennsylvania. It’s produced by Jason Blum, who’s made an awful lot of money on cheap horror films (ie Paranormal Activity).
It does seem a bit strange that the teenagers don’t seem as worried as the audience does about the odd behavior at the house. In one instance, the grandfather attacks a random guy (M. Night in his usual cameo) on the street. I wanted to do the same to him after the movie ended; or at least shove a soiled diaper in his face (I know, that’s gross…but he did that to a character in the film).
The tone of this movie is all over the place, going from a comedy, to camp, to horror. For every scene that works, there’s one that doesn’t. For example, Becca delivers a monologue that just doesn’t fly. Yet her younger brother delivers one about his father leaving, and a football game he played horrible in, that worked.
The sound editing was perfect, creating suspense. You just wonder why there weren’t more jump scares. The Sixth Sense, which is hardly considered a horror flick, had more.
This film did borrow a bit from The Sixth Sense – girls throwing up in the middle of the night, people walking in front of the camera, and a character mentioning her mom used to watch her singing, while hiding to prevent herself from being seen, as well as a video showing an explanation at the end of the film.
The set pieces could’ve been a lot creepier, too. Things just aren’t as creepy as the premise warrants.
Sure, it’s fun wondering why the kids can’t leave their room after 9:30. We wonder if those are cookies grandma is serving, or are they people? What really goes on in that oven, in that shed grandpa keeps locked, or is “mold” the real reason they can’t go down in the basement?
In the ‘70s, we wondered why women tried to run away from the killer in high heels…or why the woman went into that dark basement to investigate the strange sounds. What we’re going to have to start asking ourselves is why if kids are filming their own movie and somebody starts attacking them, don’t they just drop the camera and run for their lives. Oh yeah, we wouldn’t be able to see what was going on [this was just done in The Gallows, too]
Two different people leaving the theatre wondered allowed, “Why is M. Night still allowed to make movies?”
That seemed a bit harsh. I think this movie is going to make some money and will get decent word of mouth.
It should’ve been better.
And just as we yell out for The Stones to play “Satisfaction,” if we want satisfaction with M. Night Shyamalan, we’ll watch our DVD of Sixth Sense.
This gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.